The Denver Nuggets (45-19) are in action for the second game of a three-game homestand as they welcome the Toronto Raptors (32-33) to town. This is the first matchup between these teams this season, and this will be an interesting battle for sure. Neither team has swept the other since the 2018-19 season when the Nuggets won both matchups in the brief two-game series.

The Nuggets are riding high on a three-game winning streak while being 8-2 in their last 10 games. They’re also 3-1 since returning from the All-Star Break with wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers thrown in that mix. They have a 6.5-game lead in the Western Conference, and they’re looking to lock up the top spot in the West as soon as possible. With the Memphis loss last night, Denver’s magic number to accomplish that has reached 12.

For the Raptors, they remain a scrappy team that is just trying to put their best team on the floor each night, which has been tough with injuries to just about everyone on the roster at one point or another this year. They’re 7-3 over their last 10 games, and they’re 4-2 since the All-Star Break. They’re still in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, and they have a three-game lead over the 11th-place Indiana Pacers entering tonight.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (45-19, 29-4 home) vs Toronto Raptors (32-33, 12-20 away)

When: 7:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Denver. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Raptors HQ

Expected Starting Lineups:

TOR: PG Fred VanVleet, SG OG Anunoby, SF Scottie Barnes, PF Pascal Siakam, C Jakob Poeltl

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Dalano Banton (thumb) OUT, Thomas Bryant (ankle/hip) PROBABLE, Vlatko Cancar (wrist) QUESTIONABLE, Zeke Nnaji (shoulder) OUT, Collin Gillespie (leg) OUT

Three Things to Watch

Make Fred VanVleet A Passer

This season, Raptors’ guard Fred VanVleet has had a lot of ups and downs mixed together. He’s shooting just 34 percent from 3-point range this season after shooting 36.6 percent or better in each of his previous six seasons. He has run up a string of strong passing this year, and that would be a win for Denver. If he’s passing the ball rather than taking over the game as a shooter, that isn’t a bad outcome at all.

Second-Unit Minutes

Only one team in the NBA has two players in the top five in minutes per game. That is the Raptors with Fred and Pascal Siakam, who is tied for the league lead at 37.5 minutes per game. The top four players on the Raptors all average a full two more minutes per game than anyone on the Nuggets. That means the second unit will be going against starters more than usual. Denver’s second unit has struggled all year, and this will be one of their more difficult matchups they’ve had.

Take Care of the Ball

One of the main reasons that this Raptors’ team remains a tough out just about every night they’re on the floor is their length and effort on the defensive end. In their starting five tonight, they have four guys that are 6’7” or taller who all have wingspans of 7’1” or longer. They’re first in steals and seventh in blocks. If Denver can take care of the ball and limit turnovers, that’ll go a long way towards a Nuggets’ victory.